Sergio Azevedo and his team at the National Museum of Brazil in Rio are using a new way to learn about prehistoric creatures. Using CT scanning and 3D printing palaeontologists could study delicate bones and other ancient remains in great detail without destroying the precious specimens themselves.
Sergio Azevedo discovered the fossilised bones of an unknown animal at an old railroad site in São Paulo state, Brazil. Using a portable CT scanner his team was able to determine the orientation of the specimen in the ground, then they cut out a large section of rock to take back to the lab. There the encased fossil was probed using a more powerful scanner and a 3D replica were printed out in resin on a 3D printer.
The animal turned out to be a new species, a 75-million-year-old extinct crocodile. New Scientist reports:
The method relies on an updated version of a technique called photogrammetry, which calculates the geometry of an object from photographs. To capture a 2-million-year-old Homo habilis skull, for instance, some 160 photographs of the specimen are taken from all angles. Photogrammetry software converts the images into a 3D mesh model, which can then be printed. With a CT scanner, which uses X-rays, you don't even need to see the object with your own eyes. Fossils can be scanned while still encased in rock. The image is subjected to "virtual preparation" - software processing that digitally removes the surrounding rock.
"You can now use laser scanners to capture surface detail of delicate fossils in the field in 3D before they are excavated to provide an in situ record of a fossil or a site before it is disturbed," says Louise Leakey, who runs a virtual fossil museum, AfricanFossils.org.
Fossils provide us with the only direct evidence of prehistoric life. 3D fossils helps scientists reconstruct the biology and evolution of extinct creatures and they are an ideal tools for education.
"We are developing several research lines in palaeontology using CT and surface 3D scanning," says Azevedo. "These include the nervous system and biomechanics of crocodiles, dinosaurs and other vertebrate fossils."
Image credit: Sergio Azevedo
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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